After months of preparation, shooting for Ip Man officially began. The first round of shooting took place in a storeroom in the industrial district of Shanghai. With weeks of hard work, the artistic design team had transformed an abandoned storeroom into a 1930s cotton mill factory - Zhen Hua Cotton Mill Factory founded by Ip Man’s friend Chow Ching-chuen during Japanese Occupation, which is also the place where Ip first taught wing chun. With many scenes scheduled to be shot here, including large-scale combat scenes such as Ip and the workers resisting robbers’ attacks with wing chun, and Ip teaching the workers siu nim tau, this is one of the four major venues of the film.
Having difficulties scouting a cotton factory suitable for shooting, the team decided to recreate one in the style of the 1930s. Foshan in the early republican years was a unique place where Chinese and western cultures converge and Art Director Ken included western elements in his design. Pillars were made to resemble English lampposts and western lighting, chairs and tableware were used. The building was made to look obsolete and worn-out as suits the difficult circumstances under Japanese Occupation to convey the culture and feel of the time.
Apart from historical reference, Ken created a glass house in the factory. Shophouses with a front section for business and the back areas for living were common in the early republican days and the art department created a leisure glass house filled with books, tea ware and other everyday supplies, turning the cotton factory into an extraordinary living space. The team also painstakingly recreated equipment for the entire cotton production line from cotton traffic, classification, beating to rolling, the most remarkable feature being the cotton beating machine. With reference books as the only source of information, the team recreated a two-story-high, functioning cotton beading machine. Witnessing this stunning creation on the set, the whole crew was greatly impressed.
- a two-story-high, functioning cotton beading machine
Seeing his own reflections on glass panels of the glass house, Simon Yam (who plays Chow Ching-chuen) was inspired to interpret his role as a man with a great concern for his appearance, who built the glass house so that he could be surrounded by his own reflections. Shooting began and to everyone’s surprise, Yam took out some moisturizing lotion and rubbed it onto his hands and for a while the director thought Yam was not aware that shooting had begun. It turned out that Yam had come up with this interesting detail to show to the director, who loved it and found it brilliant. With more in-depth discussion, the unique character of Chow took shape. Apart from being visually pleasing for the audience, good setting design helps actors get into their roles and is a very important element in a film.
With huge fans on, bits of cotton flew around once the beating machine was turned on, creating a lovely romantic snowy scene in the factory. The crew, however, suffered. Despite the brilliant renovation by the art department, the factory, built more than a century ago and out of use for two decades, had a thick layer of dust and dirt accumulated on the floor. While the props were fake, the dirt was real and every time the fans were on, the dust was picked up by the wind like a sandstorm in the desert. It got even worse during action scenes when more than 10 people engage in vigorous combats in the factory. Everyone had to wear masks and sand-proof clothing at work.
The challenging shooting environment hardly dampened the spirit of the actors. Although Yam was not involved in action scenes, he developed a strong interest in wing chun. Making an effort to have our wing chun director teach him one move a day, he has now learned the full set by heart. Donnie Yen, on the contrary, did not spend his spare time studying wing chun but worked on his role of Ip Man instead. He talked like a gentleman, walked with relaxed composure and insisted on drinking from a traditional tea cup typically used by scholars, transforming himself into a gentleman from the 1930s.
After more than 10 days of shooting in the dusty factory, we finally moved on to an outdoor location for another round of shooting. Anticipating a more pleasant environment, the crew was disappointed to find the new location even dustier, which was made worse by the natural wind that came stronger than our fans. Our condition was hardly improved and the crew persevered.
a mask is very important to the shooting in the Cotton Mill Factory
Only a few scenes took place outside the factory and we were mainly shooting Ip teaching wing chun and another scene with Sa Tang-yuen ( Wong Yau-nam), who was is overwhelmed with remorse and breaks into tears upon hearing about the death of his brother. Wong was totally relaxed and cheerful before the shooting and I wondered if he would be able to weep when shooting started. To my surprise, Wong wept like a child in the rehearsal with Yen. We repeated time after time and he never failed us. Director Yip had to ask him to take a rest to reserve his tears for the real shooting. But his worry was unfounded. Wong wept like a child as required in the real shooting and Yen made fun of him, calling him a walking tap that one simply had to turn on for tears.
Three weeks passed quickly and shooting at the factory was completed. The crew finally got rid of dust and sand and headed to another major location, the house of Ip Man.